Friday, 30 October 2015

Record of the Week: Case of the Body Snatchers

A view of St. Michael's Cemetery, Toronto

The rise of body snatching from graveyards in the nineteenth century led to gated and walled cemeteries, some of which even had watchtowers.

Body snatching is the disinterment and theft of fresh corpses from graveyards. Body snatchers, or "resurrectionists," often supplied cadavers to medical schools for dissection during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was a lucrative business and one that was rarely prosecuted successfully.

Other sources of corpses for anatomical study were executed prisoners or those who died in poorhouses with no relatives to claim them. However, as many new medical schools were established in the United States and Canada, demand for cadavers was far greater than the legal supply. In the UK, body snatching was so prevalent that families of the deceased often watched over graves for days after burial. Eventually, legislation in Europe and the colonies was enacted to allow doctors and anatomy teachers to dissect donated bodies.

Read more about Body-Snatching in Ontario.

This letter was written to Bishop Alexander Macdonell of Kingston (the only Catholic diocese in Upper Canada at the time). It seems that Bishop Macdonell had received a complaint that the priest in Amherstberg, Ontario was exhuming the dead. To calm the bishop, Rev. Augustin Vervais explains that the incident was actually a case of body snatching. Apparently the trafficking of corpses across the Detroit River between Malden, Ontario and Gibralter, Michigan was common practice:
"Malden, 27 April 1841
Console yourself Monseigneur, there is nothing as grievous as that which you announced in your letter. So --
For a long time, there had been those who were making a business of removing dead bodies from the English cemetery - no sooner interred than removed. They take them, so they say, to Gibraltar, which is in front of Malden, an American state, to be dissected there.
Last December 24th, some days after I had myself buried a Catholic Irishman...a respectable citizen named Olivier Bertrand told me that he had risen from his bed around midnight to the cries of dogs and that he had seen some men in the cemetery. Some of us went to look, and we found, close to the ditch, two sticks and a pipe, and a little farther, a white sheet and a cord. The people dug to find the man had been removed - there were only his cloth and his slippers. The people were happy at having been warned by Mr. Olivier Bertrand.
Some days after, I buried a woman, and her relatives guarded the body for several nights. We learned nothing useful - what a futile exercise." [translated from French]

Bishop Macdonell fonds
M BB19.06

 Included with the letter is testimony from Olivier Bertrand, corroborating the story:

[translated] "I certify that several months ago I advised M. le Curé [the priest] that I had seen some men in the cemetery, that the noise of the dogs had led me there, and that, in my opinion, M. le Curé did well to excavate in order to safeguard and to save our relatives.
Malden 28 April 1841 [signed] Oliver Bertrand"

Bishop Macdonell fonds
M BB19.06

Friday, 23 October 2015

Counting on the Zeal and Obedience of the Clergy and People: The First Rules in the Archdiocese of Toronto

You may have noticed in the news recently that a little meeting is happening at the Vatican this month: The Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family. This meeting follows the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that was held last fall.

The Synod of Bishops is an international group of Church leaders who meet to discuss topics of universal importance to the Church at the request of the Pope. The Synod was created by Pope Paul VI in 1965. Subjects for discussion have included evangelization, catechesis, formation of priests, consecrated life, and the Eucharist, among others.

Assemblies of Church leaders have been happening since the early days of Christianity. In the early years of the Archdiocese of Toronto, diocesan synods were held. A diocesan synod is a meeting of local clergy to advise the bishop on matters of  policy. This week we highlight some documents from the archives related to the earliest synods in the Diocese of Toronto.

The first synod was called by Bishop Michael Power in 1842. The record of the decisions that were made were recorded in a letter book in Latin. In his book Michael Power: The Struggle to Build the Catholic Church on the Canadian Frontier, Mark McGowan describes the twenty-two constitutions that resulted from the synod as covering,

"a variety of things, including norms for sacramental and liturgical life, church construction, lay responsibilities in parish life, and parish finances. Confessional boxes and baptismal fonts were mandated in all churches. Proposed marriages had to conform strictly to the directives of canon law ... In addition, all parish priests had to keep accurate and up-to-date registers of baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and burials" (pp. 151-152).



The third synod of the diocese was held by Bishop de Charbonnel on September 13th, 1853 at St. Michael's College. Only five decisions were recorded:

1st That a duplicate registry of Baptisms, Marriages, and Interments be kept by each Clergyman of his mission.
2d That the fees of mixed marriages be reduced
3d That the present fee offered as intention for mass continue the same
4th That some remuneration be given to those who go a distance to attend interments
5th That the government allowance will be at the disposal of His Lordship - to be applied for the use of St Michael Seminary or superannuated and infirm priests

C AM01.01

In the 1860s, under the direction of Bishop Lynch, a list of rules was compiled as they had been written so far from previous diocesan synods, as well as rules from provincial synods and canon law. The rules were divided into several chapters, with headings such as "Of the Parish Priest," "Of the Cemetery," and "Chant." To Bishop Lynch, it was important to codify the rules of the diocese to ensure that as many souls as possible were saved.

In an introduction Lynch wrote, "Rules are necessary in every station and calling of life - the mechanic or merchant who works without rule and order is certain of failure and ruin. Ignorance of rule is as fruitful a source of many fatal mistakes as contempt of the rule itself. The priest of the Most High, whose office is the continuation of the office of Jesus Christ himself as mediator and whose duty is to dispense his merciful gifts to men for their salvation is also to be guided by rule."

Chapter the 1st: Of Our Holy Father the Pope
HO 02.15

Extreme Unction
HO 02.15

Holy Orders
HO 02.15

HO 02.15

Of the Seminary and Studies
HO 02.15

In the front of the book we found inscribed "I did not command or forbid anything under pain of suspension or inderdict. This, I find, was a mistake." This was presumably written by Bishop Lynch, although we don't know for sure, and we don't know when it was written. Nonetheless, it's an interesting sentiment!

Friday, 16 October 2015

Record of the Week: Battle at the Polls

Monday is Election Day in Canada!

Past archbishops have involved themselves in politics to varying degrees. Archbishop John Lynch was often thrust into the public limelight when it came to furthering the well-being of his Church and fellow Irish Catholics. His episcopacy (1860-1888) saw the Confederation of Canada, as well as growing tensions between Catholics and Protestants.

Voter turnout during the 1880s was steady at just over 70%.  The 2011 federal election had a turnout of 61.4%, which followed an all-time low of 58.8% in 2008.

Then and now, bishops have been consistent in compelling the faithful to vote. Concerning the 1886
provincial election, Archbishop Lynch told Catholics, "The battle is to [be] fought at the polls. - Those who do not go, fail in their duty to themselves and their children."

Similarly, the 2015 Federal Election Guide, published by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, urges that "Canadian Catholics are being called upon as citizens to exercise their right to vote."

Voting is a right and responsibility, so do your duty on Monday!

Archbishop Lynch fonds, LAA13.17

A statement by Archbishop Lynch to be read in parishes on Christmas Day, leading up to the 1886 provincial election:
"Catholics your religion and religious education of your children are both attacked.  You are bound in conscience to protect both. The battle is to [be] fought at the polls. -  Those who do not go, fail in their duty to themselves and their children."

Friday, 9 October 2015

Year of Consecrated Life: Sisters of St. Joseph

This month in our Year of Consecrated Life series we are featuring the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto, who arrived in the city on October 7th, 1851. 

In the history of the Catholic Church, a lot of the hardest social work has been taken up by Religious Sisters. Orders of women religious have been responsible for running hospitals and schools as well as reaching out to vulnerable and marginalized populations. 

One of the earliest orders to come to Toronto was the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph (CSJ). The congregation was originally founded in Le Puy-en-Velay, France in 1648. Like so many other orders, the Sisters were disbanded during the French Revolution, and many of the members were jailed or executed. One of the Sisters, Jeanne Fontbonne, was able to refound the order in 1807 in Lyons. In 1836, a group of Sisters was sent to St. Louis, Missouri, and in 1851, four Sisters from that group led by Sister Delphine Fontbonne headed to Toronto at the request of Bishop de Charbonnel. 

Depiction of the arrival of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Toronto from Frontier Women: Sisters of St. Joseph,
written by Sister Veronica O'Reilly, CSJ, with artwork by Pierre Huffner, 1986.
Religious Orders Series, Sisters of St. Joseph

The work of the Sisters of St. Joseph quickly expanded. They became health care workers, educators, and cared for the city's poor. In Toronto, they founded House of Providence, Sunnyside / Sacred Heart Orphanage, St. Michael's Hospital, Our Lady of Mercy Hospital, St. Joseph's Hospital, and St. Joseph's College. Sisters from Toronto went to Hamilton, London, Barrie, and other Ontario places as well as expanding into Western Canada. 

St. Joseph's Convent, Wellesley and Bay, 20 September, 1877
Photographs Collection, PH 28S-11P
Originally published in James Esson's Glimpses of Toronto.
A Sister nurses patients at St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto, ca. 1954
Photographs Collection, PH 28S-18P
Original held by St. Michael's Hospital Archives
House of Providence, 1914. Originally located on Power Street, near St. Paul's Basilica.
Photographs Collection, PH 31P-227AL(17)
Sacred Heart Orphanage, 1914. Located on the site of present day St. Joseph's Hospital in Sunnyside.
Photographs Collection, PH 31P-227AL(22)

The Sisters of St. Joseph continue to be dedicated to working in the community in many different ways. For more photos and more information about the history and present work of the Sisters of St. Joseph, check out their website.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Lettuce know if you'll turnip for the harvest!

It's pumpkin spice harvest time in Ontario!

It was not so long ago that parts of urban and suburban Toronto were used for agricultural purposes. When St. Augustine's Seminary opened in 1913 on the Scarborough Bluffs, the seminarians and faculty lived off the land:
"[T]he seminary grounds also included a farm with cows, pigs, and hens, which in the first three decades served as the principal source of the Seminary's food supply. An apple orchard stood north of the original Seminary building, and in the earliest years a vineyard was cultivated in order to provide Mass wine." *
St. Augustine's Seminary Photograph Collection, PH26S/83P

The orchard was located just north of the seminary building (ca.1920),
where Blessed Cardinal Newman Catholic High School now stands.

St. Augustine's Seminary Photograph Collection

The farm on the seminary grounds, including vineyards (right) for producing mass wine, ca. 1920.

St. Augustine's Seminary Photograph Collection

Loading the hay wagon on the seminary farm.

Celebrate the harvest season with a visit to St. Peter's Parish Fall Fair in Toronto this weekend (Saturday, October 3 - Sunday, October 4).

*Booth, Karen Marshall, ed. The people cry - "Send us priests": The first seventy-five years of St. Augustine's Seminary of Toronto, 1913-1988 (Toronto: Metro Press, 1988), vol. 1, p.11.